There have been 126 reported drug overdoses in Madison County this year as of Sept. 30. These incidents are classified as all emergency room visits where drugs are identified as a cause for accidental overdose. This comes as Ohio’s opioid epidemic has been the subject of both local and national news and as October marks the last quarter of 2017, health officials in the county are assessing the progress of combating the issue.

Although progress has been made in educating the public on the dangers, the problem continues to take lives.

The overall numbers of unintentional drug overdoses in Ohio was over 4,050 residents in 2016, a number which has been matched already in 2017. According to the data collected, opioids have claimed lives in all walks of life, from people in poor and wealthy areas, people in varying age groups, and all factors in between.

When looking at demographics, those affected the most are post-college-age people and with a high school diploma or GED. Younger people and adults with some college or more advanced degrees are affected substantially less than those with just a high school education.

In Madison County, 69 percent of overdoses are people with a high school diploma or GED, which accounts for 38 people.

The numbers of overdoses has more than doubled in the last five years, nearly 30 percent of them between the ages of 25 and 34. The information comes from EpiCenter, a data system used by local healthcare professionals to collect and manage information on health-related issues. According to the system, overdoses have increased every year going back to 2014 and as of Sept. 30, are up by more than 30 people since last year.

Madison County Health Commissioner Chris Cook says the county is doing a number of things to battle the problem. Since the variety of abused medications can vary and stem from a number of reasons for abuse, the latest move is in educating residents on what to do with medication that goes unused.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014; but there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain Americans report.” Their website also mentions, “An estimated 1 out of 5 patients with non-cancer pain or pain-related diagnoses are prescribed opioids in office-based settings.” With this, people are left with an excess of pain medications that they may or may not continue to use.

“We find a lot of people are hesitant to throw away prescriptions they don’t use,” Cook said. “We’ve received a number of drug-disposal bags which offers a safe way to get rid of medications.” He said the Madison County Substance Abuse Coalition (MCSAC), an organization dedicated to addressing the issues of misused and abused illegal drugs, is holding a meeting Oct. 26 to discuss getting the disposal bags to the community.

“We have talked to pharmacies in the county about starting there,” he said. “As a way to continue to educate people on the issues of medications and what all can lead to substance abuse.” Earlier in the year, Cook and London Mayor Pat Closser participated in a community town hall meeting on the issue, which Cook said was very beneficial.

Cook also said that MCSAC and health officials are looking at what can be done in 2018 as a way to increase the progress. One option is to apply for grants that would both offer financial aid to drug treatment programs and opportunities as well as equip more first responders with Naloxone (sold under the brand name, Narcan), a medication used to block the effects of opioids and reverse an overdose.

“(First responders) can access it in small supply from the Ohio Department of Health,” said Cook. The state gives an allotment to responders which Cook said is a nice piece of the service in combating the issue. “We are looking for grants to help procure Narcan for our first responders.”

Cook said that MCSAC is the main initiative in the county to address opioids as their mission is to undue the number of opioid incidents in the community. He added the most effective approach is from a multi-sector angle.

“We have 12 different sectors involved. Among them are the media, faith-based organizations, and businesses,” Cook said. “So it’s really coming from a variety of places.”

In London specifically, there is the London Recovery Project, a community organization that helps people with addiction treatment options. Mayor Closser said support from the community has been a big help in making progress.

“I’ve never seen so much teamwork on the city and county side of things,” Closser said. “In 2017, we were able to get a lot accomplished.”

He added that the city police officers, who are called in to overdose incidents in addition to paramedics, are doing a wonderful job and making steps wherever possible. “A drug dog is currently in training now with law enforcement,” he said. “Once we can get the dog involved, that will be one more area where we can incorporate a tool to help battle this issue.”

County looking ahead to programs, solutions in 2018

By Michael Williamson

Reach Michael Williamson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619.